Why did Wirral Council have to pay back £255,177.21 after overcharging fees for information requests?
The author of this piece is the Appellant in a First-tier Tribunal case in which Wirral Council is Second Respondent.
Below this story is an invoice Wirral Council paid to Bevan Brittan (who are lawyers) which was for disbursements.
In layman’s terms that means money that Bevan Brittan was dispersing on Wirral Council’s behalf which totalled £255,177.21.
This was to settle an overcharging issue involving fees Wirral Council had charged in the past to those making EIR [Environmental Information Regulations 2004] requests.
In 2012 Leeds City Council appealed two ICO decision notices (FER0372970 and
FER0354510) to the First-tier Tribunal over whether Leeds City Council could levy a £22.50 charge over processing CON29 forms (a form used in conveyancing by property search businesses to do checks about information held by the local council).
After a three-day First-tier Tribunal hearing in February 2013, the appeal of Leeds City Council was dismissed in March 2013 and the decision found the charges had been unlawful.
Firstly Leeds City Council should’ve published a list of charges before charging and secondly they were only allowed to cover certain costs involved and not set a flat rate charge.
Moving to Wirral Council, the £255,177 in disbursements below paid by Wirral Council is to (presumably) refund various organisations that had been overcharged by Wirral Council following the First-tier Tribunal decision in March 2013 (although this decision was later appealed and another similar case asked for an opinion by the Court of Justice of the European Union).
However that is just the disbursements (£255,177), the legal costs to Bevan Brittan will come to more than this amount.
In the "old days" at Wirral Council this sort of amount of money would have to be signed off by politicians, however I don’t remember a decision or report that explicitly mentioned this issue in the last 12 months. Maybe I missed something?
The invoice below was unearthed by myself during the 30 day working period during the 2015/16 audit, which I requested because of its size.
Certainly it raises a lot of questions as to whether this has been remedied, not just paying back what was overcharged, but making sure the charges are lawful going forward.
Maybe this is what Wirral Council means when they state, “It is about having a private sector head with a public sector heart.”
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